New Delhi, Sep 30: The controversial ordinance on convicted lawmakers may be junked by the government in the next few days, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to resign over the perceived undermining of his authority by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, feel former bureaucrats who have held key positions in the government.
Retired senior officials, to whom IANS spoke, said the prime minister will not resign over Gandhi trashing the ordinance approved by his cabinet as “complete nonsense.” Gandhi made the remarks when the prime minister was in the US and had significant engagements lined up.
Former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar said if the prime minister had to resign, he should have done so by now. “His being in New York does not matter. Obviously, he is not going to resign,” he said.
Prabhat Kumar, who was cabinet secretary 1998-2000, said the ordinance on convicted lawmakers should not have been cleared by the cabinet in the first place and is now likely to be reconsidered by the government.
The ordinance, approved by the union cabinet last week, seeks to reverse the Supreme Court judgment mandating the immediate disqualification of lawmakers convicted for a criminal offence punishable with a jail term of more than two years.
The ordinance was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee for his assent, but he reportedly has sought some clarifications from the government and has not signed it.
Prabhat Kumar said the ordinance was against the sentiments of people who do not want criminals as law-makers.
“It was a hasty decision. The cabinet was misadvised. The government should have acted according to wishes of people,” Prabhat Kumar said, and added the government was likely to reconsider the measure and write to the president accordingly.
T.S.R. Subramaniam, who was cabinet secretary 1996-1998, said the government will scrap the ordinance. “If they do not, the government will be split down the middle,” he said.
Subramaniam said differences between the government and the party were not uncommon but these were usually sorted “outside the public view”.
Referring to Rahul Gandhi’s remarks, he said matters concerning the ordinance could have been sorted out behind the scenes and “the drama” was not right. He said usually a politician reaches the top by worsting an opponent, but in case of Rahul Gandhi the hit was taken by a leader from his own party.
He said Manmohan Singh had tolerated quite a lot, and it would be out of character for him to resign now.
Suggestions have been made that the prime minister should resign in the wake of Gandhi’s remarks. Sanjaya Baru, a former press advisor to the prime minister, tweeted that Rahul Gandhi’s comments that the ordinance should be “torn up and thrown away” were tantamount to insubordination of the prime minister and undermined his position and authority. Baru said the prime minister should quit.
A former bureaucrat, Sanjeev Ahluwalia, brother of Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and a key prime ministerial aide, has in a blog slammed the prime minister for turning a “Nelson’s eye to massive corruption” and allowing “decision-making to be subverted by unconscionably partisan politics and sloth.” Ahluwalia said it was not too late for the prime minister to resign.
A former home secretary, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was not likely to resign.
“I think he should have resigned (following Gandhi’s remarks). But I don’t think he will resign. There are different personalities and they react differently to situations,” he said. He said the nature of internal arrangement in the government was such that all major decisions were taken by the Congress party leadership.
Referring to the ordinance, he said the president may send it back for clarifications and the government may not return it.
He said the government may also decide to withdraw the ordinance.
S.Y. Quraishi, former chief election commissioner, said the ordinance was not only questionable but had very little chance of withstanding judicial scrutiny as the main act had been struck down by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on July 10 struck down a provision of the Representation of People Act that allows a convicted member of parliament or a state legislature to continue membership for a three-month period for filing an appeal to a higher court and secure suspension of the conviction.
“I think the best course will be to properly withdraw it (the ordinance). The government has to respect public opinion,” Quraishi told IANS.
Referring to language used by Rahul Gandhi, he said it was disproportionate. “People in general find moderate language more effective,” he said.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)